Marital Communication: The Value of Telling the Truth

Communication takes place in a context. If the context is one of mutual contempt, then the communication style will be consistently negative. That’s why Bill and Joan sought out counseling.
Joan: “I could have yelled at Bill Tuesday, but I caught myself and I chose not to.”

Counselor: “The warfare has subsided considerably, but it still isn’t perfect yet.”
Bill: “That’s right. She has stopped calling me ‘lazy’ and that’s a big help.”

Counselor: “Have you told her that it’s a big help?”
Bill: “I don’t have to. She knows.”

Counselor “I never said she didn’t. This communication is not for the purpose of education or reporting.”
Bill: “Then what’s it for?”

Counselor: “It’s for encouragement. We want to encourage her to continue behaving constructively and not destructively.”
Bill: “We both need all the encouragement we can get, that’s for sure.”

Counselor: “It is also for the purpose of validation. The antidote to twenty years of disrespect is validation. She deserves to be validated. Validation is about giving positive attention to her efforts. Most of the time we only give attention to what we don’t like, not what is going well. Like if you leave for work and there is a stack of dirty dishes in the sink. If you come home home and see the dishes are still there, it’s easy to complain and cause a fuss about it. But if you come home and the sink is empty, we don’t say anything and just go about our business.”
Bill: “It’s kind of invisible.”

Counselor: “But it is an accomplishment just the same. Even an invisible accomplishment is worthy of recognition.”
Bill “She doesn’t commend me for not calling her ‘foolish’ any more.”

Counselor “Then it wouldn’t be fair for you to commend her, would it?”
Bill “It does sound stupid when you put it that way.”

Counselor: “It really isn’t a matter of intellect at all. It is a function of childhood logic that has never been updated. We have to update it now.”
Bill: “How do we do that?”

Counselor: “Let me answer your question with a question. For whose benefit do you recognize your wife for something she has stopped doing?”
Bill: “I’d say ‘hers’.”

Counselor: “Actually it is primarily for your benefit and only secondarily for hers.”
Bill: “How does it benefit me to compliment her for not doing something?”

Counselor: “Isn’t it logical to tell someone who pleases you that she pleases you? It is illogical not to. This is an ancient technique called telling the truth. We can replace our childhood logic by acting as an adult in the real world.”
Bill: “How should I say it?”

Counselor: “For example, you can say, ‘Joan, I’ve noticed that you have stopped calling me ‘lazy’ and I appreciate it.’”
Bill: “That’s the truth. I can say that.”

Counselor: “Good. Then why don’t you say it?”
Bill: “I feel silly.”

Counselor: “You have been the prisoner of ‘silly’ for 40 years. It’s time you made a change.”
Bill: “Okay, here goes. Joan, it means a lot to me that you have stopped calling me those hurtful names…..Why am I all choked up?”

Counselor: “Its just a sign that your marriage to Joan is something you value. We don’t get emotional over things that aren’t important.”
Joan: “Bill, all these years, I thought you didn’t want me in your life. You were so critical. It felt like I wasn’t good enough for you, and like you couldn’t respect me until I lived up to your expectations.”

Counselor: “Your wife just communicated something to you. What mistake has she been making for all these years?”
Bill: “I don’t know.”

Counselor: “She said that you didn’t want her in your life.”
Bill: “Well that’s stupid. I keep telling her she’s wrong. I do want her in my life.”

Counselor: “Is that your idea of communicating positively?”
Bill: “I was wrong, wasn’t I?”

Counselor: “You’re catching on. It is not positive when you imply that your wife is stupid, wrong or a liar. If you do, then you are standing in judgment of her. You can’t improve the tone of your marriage that way.”
Bill: “What should I have said?”

Counselor: “You might have said, ‘I don’t blame you for feeling that way. It’s not that I don’t want you in my life, it’s that I don’t deserve you in my life. I didn’t feel I deserved you, so I was trying to push you away.”
Joan: “Bill, is that really how you felt?”

Bill: “Not consciously, but I recognize it now that I’ve heard it put that way. I didn’t deserve it. I felt inferior, unworthy.”
Joan: “You were trying to solve the problem by driving me away from you.”

Bill: “I didn’t mean to drive you away, it was just turning out that way.”
Joan: “We are communicating now, aren’t we?”

Bill: “Yes. This is heavy. Do we have to talk like this all the time?”
Counselor: “‘Why don’t we just take it as it comes. Now that you know the way, it should come a lot easier.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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